Emergency departments still under ‘severe strain’ as average wait times stretch to almost eight hours

Emergency departments across Northern Ireland remained under “severe strain” today as average waiting times climbed to nearly eight hours at one hospital.

The emergency department at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, one of those under the most pressure
The emergency department at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, one of those under the most pressure

The pressure on emergency care was described as “unprecedented” by one senior medic.

The Department of Health at Stormont said a combination of “ongoing Covid-related care” and an influx of patients with other conditions that “developed or worsened during the pandemic” are to blame, in part, for the situation that has developed in recent days.

The latest figures from the Health and Social Care Board showed patients at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry were being forced to wait an average of seven hours and 53 minutes for care.

The average waiting times at the Antrim Area Hospital’s emergency department, meanwhile, was over six hours when the figures were recorded today.

Dr Paul Kerr, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine for Northern Ireland, said some patients were having to wait as much as 48 hours.

“There’s no doubt what we are witnessing is unprecedented activity and huge crowding in emergency departments,” he told the BBC.

“For example, this morning there’s probably in the region of 250 patients waiting in emergency departments, these are patients who have already been seen, assessed and treated and are awaiting a bed,” Dr Kerr said.

“In the past few days we know some of these patients are waiting one or two days on a trolley.”

The latest figures from the Department of Health, meanwhile, show that a number of hospitals in Northern Ireland had effectively run out of beds – Altnagelvin, Antrim, Causeway, Daisy Hill, Royal Victoria, South West Acute and Ulster hospitals are all listed as being ‘over capacity’.

There were more patients requiring admission than beds across the hospital system as a whole, the figures showed.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Hospital emergency departments remain under severe strain, reflecting pressures right across the health and social care system. The current level of pressure is on a par with what is normally experienced in winter and this is placing a significant strain on staff who are working extremely hard to treat the sickest patients first. The current situation is resulting in long waiting times for patients in ED which is deeply regrettable.

“There are a number of interlinked factors behind this situation including limits on capacity due to Covid-19 infection prevention measures, ongoing Covid-related care for patients, people coming forward for medical care for conditions that developed or worsened during the pandemic and limits on capacity in intermediate/social/domiciliary care, impacting on hospital discharges.”

The spokesperson stressed that people should still attend A&E in an emergency.